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Are there any benefits or downsides in feeding the children (around elementary school age) on the schedule of "I'm hungry now" as opposed to scheduled meal times?

This is of course assuming that the nutritional content remains the same, e.g. it's not like they demand a piece of cake 1 hr before lunch and then don't eat soup or veggies because of that.

An example would be: they ask for food 1 hour before usual lunch time and get a fruit salad (that they would otherwise get at snack time) because they aren't yet hungry enough for full lunch. Then they eat lunch 1-2 hrs later. Then then demand what would have been dinner during snack (but eat less of it) and then finish the day at usual dinner time with something light like an extra Yogurt. So they get 1 extra meal, with a mild increase in calories[1], and no decrease in useful nutrition.

My main concern is lack of stable food schedule induced by indulging such demands.

Is that a valid concern as long as I manage the total nutritional input in a sane way?

One of the things that worry me is that during school days they obviously don't have such flexibility for the first 3 meals.

[1] - The specific kids in question have decent metabolism and are stably UNDER the average weight, so extra calories are NOT an issue. Confirmed with their pediatrician.

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Are you using "stable food schedule" to imply "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner"? –  Noah May 27 at 21:47
@Noah - in my personal case, it's Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner. But the question is generic enough to accomodate the 3 meal schedule as well. –  user3143 May 27 at 21:48
I'll post an answer when I get home. Will take a bit to gather the sources and such –  Noah May 27 at 21:59
Well, I spent the better part of the last two days trying to find definitive research in one manner or another, and every time there was a health claim, it was refuted. The consensus is that it's definitely not nutritionally harmful, but there are no definite benefits. The argument over parenting philosophies re: children "demanding" something vs. obeying schedules is one that I don't want to get into –  Noah May 29 at 14:03

1 Answer 1

I suggest that you let them eat when they are hungry rather than just at the times most people eat. After I started doing this, I rarely get indigestion. YMMV.

You could establish "conventional" meal timings starting on any chosen weekend by giving your kids a super small meal before a major meal at a chosen time. Hopefully, they will be hungry then. IMHO, its good to have a regular rythm - meal time, sleep time, bowel time etc. I have sometimes experienced a bit of acid reflux when I sleep on full stomach. So, I keep a big gap between my meals and sleeptime (day/night) to avoid that. I also suggest that you make moderate exercise a regular part of your kid's routine because it can help your appetite and make you healthy.

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